by Jessica Graham
The first time I thought of chocolate as a drug was a few years ago. I was having a day that was heavy with sadness. I had been moving through tender achy stirrings in my chest and teary interactions with my partner. It was late afternoon and the melancholy was not letting up. I’m good at being with challenging emotions, but it doesn’t mean I always like it. Suddenly, it hit me. I needed to go buy some chocolate.
I don’t eat a lot of sugary treats. My diet is, for the most part, embarrassingly healthy. I cringe a little when I tell a new friend what I don’t eat. My body thanks me for my conscious eating, with clear skin, a happy belly, and a fairly strong immune system. Even so, I don’t restrict myself from something sweet now and then and good dark chocolate is one of my indulgences.
On this particular day, eating chocolate turned out to be more like popping a Valium than a little indulgence. I rushed into my neighborhood grocery store and found some dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt. Yum. Before I even got back to the car the wrapper was off and I had devoured half of the bar. As I buckled my seatbelt and started up the car, I noticed that I was already feeling much better. The heavy sad feeling was lifting and I felt giddy. When I realized why, however, I became disappointed. I had checked out with chocolate—using it to change my mood, like drugs or alcohol. Checking out is something that goes against how I want to live, but lazy moments pop up now and then.
Since that experience I have became a lot more mindful about my chocolate consumption. I don’t drink a beer when I’m sad. I don’t pop a pill when I’m anxious. I don’t smoke a cigarette because I’m angry. Why should I use chocolate the same way? The more you wake up to reality, the less you want to go back to sleep. Something as minor as eating some chocolate when you’re feeling blue stops being an option.
The fantastic thing I’ve discovered with mindful chocolate eating is that I enjoy it more. I don’t just shove a bunch in my mouth for the reaction it brings. Instead I take my time, with a very small amount, enjoying each sensation that arises. Rather than using it as an escape, I try to treat it as an opportunity to get present with pleasure.
You can do this with any kind of food. There is a whole mindful eating movement that is changing people’s relationships with food in marvelous ways. Since chocolate is my favorite sweet, here are few tips on how to eat less and enjoy more. Feel free to translate to your indulgence of choice.
Don’t Eat Away the Pain
Feeling down? Don’t reach for the chocolate. Save it for when you are feeling great and you can capitalize on the extra pleasure. If you find yourself having a strong craving for chocolate, take a moment to be with the sensations in your body. Notice if there is any sadness or anxiety. Look back over the day and recognize if you have been under any stress or if your mind has been busy with negative thoughts. Take time to mindfully attend to your present experience, without trying to escape it. Realize that it’s just a habit to eat your pain away. New habits can be wired into the brain. Each time you make a choice to be present with what is, rather than reaching for the Hershey’s bar, you are actually changing the way your brain works.
A Little Bit Goes a Long Way
I keep semi-sweet chocolate chips in my fridge, and they are not for baking. When I want to enjoy some chocolate, I scoop out about ten chips and put them on a small plate. I look at them, feeling the pleasure that is already arising before I even have a taste. Then I eat them one at a time. Sucking until they melt completely. I take the time to really taste the chocolate. I also notice the sensations in my mouth, face, and the rest of my body while I move my tongue over the sweetness. I usually chew at least two or three, just for variation. There is whole different set of sensations that come with breaking the chips between my teeth. My actual chocolate intake is small, but my pleasure and enjoyment is huge.
Sharing is Caring
Do you have a friend who shares your love of chocolate? Try mindfully indulging together. Have tasting party. Try little bites of new and exotic types of chocolate. Talk to each other about the experience while your sample the chocolate. Tell your friend how each new taste affects your body. Get into the details. Then listen to their experience. See if you can get your mirror neurons firing and actually experience their pleasure as they nibble. This also might be something you want to try with a romantic partner. Things could start to get hot as you experience the waves of sweetness and deliciousness.
Bringing mindfulness to your indulgences will allow you to maintain them as something sweet rather than an addiction. Becoming mindful doesn’t mean cutting out all the fun or all the chocolate. It means practicing a willingness to be present with all your experiences and allowing yourself to grow even when it’s uncomfortable. This isn’t about getting tight and rigid around chocolate or any other food. Instead you will begin to find a new freedom and joy in something as simple as a chocolate chip.
photo by Windell Oskay